“Poets are for each other.”

Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne, between The Keep and Miller’s Crossing) has four friends over to his mansion. They stay up late drinking just tons of laudanum, having sex and challenging each other to write scary stories.

Lord Byrne:

Supposedly this one night spawned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well as the first vampire story published in English, so dramatists and horror historians love to revisit it. I haven’t seen the others, but for sheer imagery and inventiveness, it’s hard to imagine anyone topping Russell and this great movie. The actors are into it, throwing themselves histrionically into the fantasy. Fun music, even cartoonish at times, by Thomas Dolby. Things get increasingly traumatic and dreamlike as the night wears on, with apparent murders and accidents and Mary Godwin’s (she hadn’t yet married Shelley) visions of her dead child. Strange ending, as they’re all perfectly fine in the morning, then a present-day tour boat gives a rushed narrative postscript.

Timothy Spall (in his second Frankstein-related film in a row, after appearing in The Bride with Sting and Jennifer Beals) is Dr. Polidori, commissioned to write a biography of Byron. I never quite figured his character out (though I love watching Timothy Spall, so it’s not important), but reading later that he became famous for his vampire story gave new meaning to this scene where he’s harmed from touching the cross on his wall.

Miriam Cyr (only in a few movies, but three are Frankenstein-related) is Claire Clairmont, stepsister of Mary Godwin/Shelley, who had a child with Byron the following year. Miriam may have been cast for her ability to open her eyes unusually wide.

Boyishly energetic Julian Sands (year after A Room With a View) plays Shelley, and Natasha Richardson (Asylum, The Handmaid’s Tale) is Mary. Sands kicks things into high gear early in the night, running naked onto the rooftops trying to catch lightning (definite Frankenstein reference).

Shelley, Mary, Polidori:

They summon a creature during a seance, Sands goes out to the shed and gets spooked, Polidori goes to bed early then appears as a dismembered head on the floor. Goblins, giant snakes and living suits of armor roam the house. There are swords, guns, torches and hangings, and somehow they all end up in the basement covered in filth.

“We’re dead. It’s shown me the torture it has in store for us. Our creature – it will be there waiting in the shadows, in the shape of our fears, until it has seen us to our deaths.”

Ivan Passer filmed a version of this story two years later, with Eric Stoltz in the Sands role, Alex Winter in the Spall role, and Laura Dern as Claire. Also in ’88, the same year he was in Ken Russell’s Lair of the White Worm, Hugh Grant played Byron in yet another version, with Elizabeth Hurley as Claire.

Movie opens on a border patrolwoman (Florence Loiret Caille, the eaten maid in Trouble Every Day, also in Time of the Wolf), then moves to her husband (Grégoire Colin, upstairs neighbor in 35 Shots of Rum), then quickly to the husband’s father Louis (Michel Subor of Topaz, Anatomy of a Marriage, Le petit soldat) with whom it remains, more or less, for the duration.

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Along the way we meet a pharmacist (attractively-freckled Bambou, best known for her relationship with Serge Gainsbourg) who sleeps with Louis, Louis’s dog-owning neighbor (Béatrice Dalle, cannibal Coré in Trouble Every Day, also in Clean and Inside), a sinister blonde woman (Katya Golubeva of Twentynine Palms, Pola X, I Can’t Sleep) who stalks him obsessively, and Louis’s ex in Tahiti who will not help him find his estranged son Tikki. Oh, “and Alex Descas,” proudly proclaims the opening credits, but he only appears in one scene, in close-up, as a priest.

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Nobody I’ve talked to seems sure of exactly what happens in this movie. Much of that can be explained by the director’s comment that some of the characters don’t actually exist except in Louis’s imagination – I’m guessing that accounts for his blonde stalker, but I’m not sure who else. Louis abandons his dogs at his wintery shack in northern France, goes to Switzerland to withdraw piles of cash, negotiates the purchase of a ship in Korea, then heads to Tahiti to look for his son (not caring half as much about his other son in France). Along the way, probably in flashback, he gets a heart transplant in Russia, the memory of which seems related to the mysterious stalker. Oh, and back in France he kills somebody with the knife he always carries.

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Guy from Tindersticks did the music without his band – it’s quiet and upsetting and wonderful. Played at Venice with 3-Iron, The World, Kings & Queen and The Sea Inside, but lost to Vera Drake. Between this movie and Trouble Every Day, I’m thinking the director of Martyrs could be a Claire Denis fan.

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Story interpretations vary, although apparently it helps immensely to read the essay by Jean-Luc Nancy on which the script was based. In the DVD interview, Denis describes the physical feeling the book gave her, talks about the film being a vehicle for Michel Subor as much as an adaptation of the book. “My producer also was absolutely the most perfect producer for that film, but he was also suffering from a very severe depression, and he killed himself before we finished.” – this is the same producer who worked on The Man From London.

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Carson:

The Intruder is loaded with Marxist Dialectics, the kind of suggestive cutting collisions that were pioneered by Sergei Eisenstein. A man describes a scene in the woods to his wife as a way of setting an erotic tone between the two of them, followed by a cut to the man’s father sitting amidst tall pine trees relaxing with his dogs. A priest speaks about the variety of immoral beings in the world, followed by a cut to the film’s blank protagonist, Louis Trebor. … In order to gather any semblance of narrative momentum, one has to look towards the way that the film is essentially divided into three parts, each comprised of a different locale, though not entirely limited to it, and connected by the theme of travel and intended self-renewal. … his lonely woodland cabin on the French-Swiss border, Pusan [South Korea], and Tahiti. … The film’s tempo steadily decreases … By the finale in Tahiti, The Intruder feels like a completely different work than what its opening anticipated. The shots lengthen, the soundtrack becomes quieter, comedic scenes appear, and Denis begins interspersing the action with footage from an unfinished 60’s film called Le Reflux, also set in Tahiti and starring Michel Subor.

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Claire Denis in Senses of Cinema:

My films are not highly intellectual, and L’Intrus is like a boat lost in the ocean drifting, you know? I think that’s the way I picture it … Even if it’s the dream of a voyage, I think it was very important for me that the film offer the two sides of the globe, the north hemisphere and south hemisphere, as the two sides of the heart.

He’s not aware of the people still around who love him. He has no respect for that. The only woman he’s gentle to, the woman with the dogs played by Béatrice Dalle, it’s because she doesn’t care for him that he’s attracted by her beauty. I would imagine that if she would let him enter her house and open her heart to him, he would disrespect her immediately. So I think Trebor is not a very lovable man. Politically, I would say he represents everything I dislike in my country, this sort of selfish-solitude mentality … So I’m happy that he is condemned at the end: He is defeated, and I think it’s only fair. But it’s interesting to me that this main character is someone I do not respect. I understand I can suffer from his anxiety, but I don’t like him. When I wrote the script, I called him A Man With No Heart, a heartless man.

[Subor] had read the script and I gave him those new [Johnny Cash] songs to listen to because I wanted him to be inspired. I told him, “Probably I will never use this as music for the film”, but I wanted him to feel that death is coming closer, to hear that voice, that man in Cash’s last two records whose life has been rich and full of love and emotion. And there is a trembling, as if the moment is coming.

For further study I rewatched Claire Denis’s episode of Ten Minutes Older in which L’Intrus author Jean-Luc Nancy talks endlessly in a train car about French homogeneity and foreigners as intruders, but didn’t find it any more interesting than last time.

The 30’s were full of Ruggles: Charlie Ruggles, Wesley Ruggles, Ruggles of Red Gap… you don’t hear about Ruggles anymore. A shame, for the most part, but I’d be glad not to hear from this particular Ruggles anymore (although I’m likely to catch I’m No Angel or Too Many Husbands eventually). The movie had a good premise and stars, but writer Claude Binyon (Holiday Inn) and Mr. Ruggles tried everything they could to ruin it with crappy dialogue and pacing.

Claudette Colbert takes a solo vacation to Paris, fleeing simple, earnest boyfriend Lee Bowman (who was he in Love Affair? Must have been Chuck Boyer’s friend/agent), but runs into relentless playboy Robert Young (The Canterville Ghost, Fritz Lang’s Western Union) and his reluctant, sarcastic friend Melvyn Douglas (Ninotchka, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House). Bland dialogue ensues, in which Melvyn says something that’s supposed to be witty but isn’t actually witty because of the writer’s limitations, and Claudette, annoyed, tells him he is too sarcastic, phrasing it the same way each time.

They go off to Switzerland (IMDB says it was really Idaho) for a ski vacation, leading to the only exciting scene, in which Claudette gets caught on a bobsled run. A movie’s not a romantic comedy unless she ends up with a guy, and Robert Young turns out to be married. Lee Bowman tracks her down in Switzerland, but she determines that this makes him paranoid, not romantic (a fine distinction), and anyway she didn’t meet him in Paris, so according to the title she must end up with Melvyn, and so she does.